Characters of the Village
By Joy & Brian Pape
This article has been published in honor of the late Maggie Berkvist, photographer, who was to work with us on this column. We often spent time with her at the Hudson River Park.
When we moved to the West Village, we missed our local grocery store that was within walking distance from our home. We even kept a car just to go grocery shopping weekly and stock up. After a few years of dealing with alternate street parking for just one day of shopping-a-week, we decided Brian would take his bike, and we sold the car.
We were thrilled in Sept. 2019 when Brooklyn Fare, 666 Greenwich Street, a full service, clean grocery store, with fresh ingredients and friendly staff opened just a block from our home! It replaced a previous D’Agostino’s in the Archive Building that had closed several years ago.
Then, shortly before the pandemic, we met one of the cashiers, Kenia Hernandez, who is 23 years of age. Her friendly smile and warm personality were an instant attraction. Every time we went there and saw her, she remembered us, and greeted us by name. We chose Kenia as the Character of the Village for the March issue due to her impact on our lives before, during, and after the pandemic. People who work at grocery stores are essential workers. There weren’t many places to interact with people other than grocery stores and pharmacies during the pandemic.
For her interview, Kenia came in early. She planned it before her shift even though it takes her one and a half to two hours to get to and from work each work day from east Brooklyn. She also works a full-time schedule, besides being a student at Brooklyn College.
During the interview, we were joined in passing by several coworkers. We spoke with Ivy, the cashier supervisor, who said Kenia was promoted to head cashier a year ago, and “everybody loves Kenia.” Kenia introduced us to Nelson, her boyfriend whom she met there at work, and to Alfredo Lucero, the store manager, who offered, “She’s an excellent employee. She goes beyond what is expected with customer service, and is caring about the community.”
VV: What brings you here to work at BF?
KH: I began working at Brooklyn Fare because my friend Nancy at college mentioned her job was hiring. At that moment I was struggling a bit financially [and] I mainly depended on my parents, but I wanted to pay my own tuition. I feel grateful since my parents have always been supportive of my educational journey. That also motivates me to work harder, and I feel so grateful to work here. I work with amazing people which is also one of my favorite parts of working here. My coworkers have become friends of mine, and thanks to this job I have made lifelong friends.
VV: What was it like working at the beginning of the pandemic?
KH: Suddenly, we had to do our jobs with various protective gear for eight hours a day, which made some jobs a little harder to do. There were often very long lines inside and outside as people stocked up for longer quarantine periods, and we had to limit how many customers at a time could be in the store, which created some tensions. Then, I had to be out for three months to care for my Dad during his COVID bout.
VV: How is it different now at work?
KH: It’s pretty much back to normal now, with few restrictions. We still wear masks sometimes, but not as constant. About a year ago, Brooklyn Fare opened a new store in Midtown so I and other staffers helped train their new staff and we weren’t here as much.
VV: What is your least favorite part of the job?
KH: Sometimes people will complain to the cashiers about prices. Unfortunately, we have nothing to do with that, so we just have to take their blame.
VV: What are your favorite places in the Village?
KH: Whenever we get a chance, we love the scenery along Hudson River Park, only two blocks away from the store. Our favorite restaurant is Tio Pepe, 168 West 4th Street; we love their food!
VV: What else do you think is important for us to know about you?
KH: I am enrolled at Brooklyn College in special education. I have cousins who are on the autism spectrum, and when my cousin Victor was born, I determined that I would get a degree to teach children with special needs. I know that I’m here to provide service to my customers, so I come in with a good attitude. There is no reason to be negative. And for that and many reasons more I will forever be grateful to Brooklyn Fare and the West Village community!
About the authors: Joy Pape is a board- certified nurse practitioner, author and writer. Brian J. Pape is a citizen architect in private practice, serving on the Man- hattan District 2 Community Board. He is also Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Commit- tee, a member of AIANY Historic Buildings and Housing Committees, a LEED-AP “Green” certified architect, and a journalist specializing in architecture subjects. They love living in the Village since 2009.